Ashmore and Cartier Islands

Ashmore and Cartier Islands

Indian Ocean
LAST UPDATED 11/07/2008
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Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism

Level of surfing


Quality of surf





74 km


Topical Maritime


Very Isolated, Cyclones, Extreme Heat, Severe Storms, Difficult Access

Best Months

May - August

Time Zone


Special Requirements

Private Beaches, Special Pass / Permits, Non tourist Friendly


Hephaestos: Ashmore and Cartier Islands; 7 May 2003

Ashmore and Cartier Islands are two groups of small low-lying uninhabited tropical islands in the Indian Ocean situated on the edge of the continental shelf 320 km northwest of Western Australia and south of the Indonesian island of Roti (midway between northwestern Australia and Timor island).

The Ashmore Islands, comprising Middle, East, and West islands, are coral islets within a reef. Cartier Island, also lying within a reef, is more sandy in composition.


NASA: Cartier Island; 30 June 2007

These uninhabited islands came under Australian authority in 1931; formal administration began two years later - created in 1934, the territory was administratively linked to the Northern Territory of Australia. Ashmore Reef supports a rich and diverse avian and marine habitat; in 1983, it became a National Nature Reserve. Cartier Island, a former bombing range, is now a marine reserve.




NASA: Ashmore Reef; 2007

Ashmore and Cartier are generally uninhabited all year round with the only exception that of transiting Indonesian fishermen and pleasure craft out of Darwin, Australia. The rules change from time to time regarding rules for landing or surfing around here so it is best to check with Northern Territory Tourism before you plan to head out. The area is unique in that it falls under Australian juristiction but Indonesian fishermen are permitted to operate here providing they do so using traditional means - so no motors and only handlines - a very tough gig in the middle of the ocean.

The reefs have excellent exposure to the same regular SW swells that power Bali so throughout May to September there is often a wave here. The best wave known as Spirit Well breaks along the north of West Islet though Middle and East Islet can work as well if the tide is right.

There was once a fresh water well on Ashmore - a freak of nature very rare in the Indian Ocean. Around 20 years ago an Indonesian fishermen who died at sea was buried right next to it - hence the name Spirit Well. Unfortunately the putrefacting corpse has poisoned the well so do not be tempted to quaff from the cool blue waters young traveller.

Ashmore is home to around 16  species of sea snake, all of them deadly...isnt that...nice.

Cartier is a bit of a mystery, it's tucked a little further south than Ashmore so sees less swell but is likely to have good potential in larger SW swell cycles.

You will need a boat to get to Ashmore of Cartier, charters are available from Broome or Darwin (Australia) - very cheap passage from Indonesia if you have no fear of hand lining right next to 10 foot tiger sharks in a 9 foot boat.

what to pack

Flashdance: A pair of very simple Moroccan flip flops called "Cabjuks"; 25 May 2007

A small backpack makes a good carryon bag and will be useful in daily life.  Women: remember to take a good flat pair of shoes.... And for everybody: pair of comfortable walking shoes will be great for walking. Beach clothing & sandals will be useful if you are going in the warm season. Take a few light and casual things, nothing fashionable – you won’t need it there. Camera, adaptor, good books to read and music. Oh, yeah, booties as well.

Another option would be just to stay at you place and have a nap – the whole atmosphere is very laidback.
Though many resorts have snorkelling gear, better take your own, especially if you plan to do a bit of travelling to different islands.

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